Low-T DTC ads linked with more testing — and more prescriptions

An ad from 2012 promoting a new dosage of Androgel. Photo credit: iSpot.tv.

If you needed more evidence as to why drugmakers continue to plunge billions of dollars into direct-to-consumer advertising, look no further than a recent study published in JAMA. In it, researchers found that broadcast DTC ads for drugs treating low testosterone were linked with “substantial overall increases” in patients being tested and treated for the same condition.  

See also: Drugmakers again boost DTC spending, to $5.6 billion in 2016

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill investigated this potential link in 75 areas across the U.S. They found that out of 17 million commercially insured men, one million were tested and just over 283,000 began treatment between 2009 and 2013.

“Although the average increase in testosterone rates associated with a single ad exposure was less than 1%, advertisements were widespread and and frequent during the study period, direct-to-consumer advertising was associated with substantial overall increases in testosterone testing and initiation,” the study's authors wrote.

See also: 2013 All-Star Large Pharma Marketing Team of the Year: AndroGel

Critics argue that advertising for low-testosterone drugs is a form of what is sometimes referred to as “disease-mongering.” They claim that these and other ads latch onto symptoms like fatigue and ignore that a natural decline in testosterone does not necessarily warrant a prescription, according to a 2015 editorial published in The Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

The FDA updated the labels of drugs purported to address low testosterone in 2015, to note that they can potentially increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

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